“I caught my first tarpon when I was 10 years old,” he said. “I was in the Pass, using live bait. That’s when my addiction to fishing began. Gasparilla Island back then wasn’t nearly as developed as it is today. It wasn’t as modern. It was simplistic. But it’s still a wonderful place.”
Dustin is himself a Florida native, and his father, Kevin, is a boatbuilder. It is a profession that he passed on to and now shares with Dustin.
“I was born near Bradenton, in Cortez,” he said. “Every summer, we would either go to Gasparilla Island or the Keys. During the school year, I would jump on my bike and go catch snook off of the dock right down the road from my house. I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood for the world. It was wonderful.”
Dustin and his wife Chelsea were high school sweethearts. They started dating when she was in the tenth grade, and again in her senior year. The couple have been together for seven years, and have a daughter, Oceanna.
The 2 1/2-year-old Oceanna has already been fishing in the Pass.
“I hope that the tarpon are still there when she is old enough to really fish for them,” said Dustin. “Some of the practices you see out in the Pass make me wonder what is going to happen to the tarpon.”“Chelsea grew up on Anna Maria Island,” said Dustin. “Her dad was the head lifeguard out on the island, so she grew up on the water. She fished and shrimped and crabbed out there. She can even catch a crab with her bare hands. She has taught me a thing or two about fishing.”
Many of the couple’s dates were walks on the beach or fishing, so a proposal on the beach was fitting. It was a drizzly evening as the small family made their way across the causeway onto the island. Dustin wanted to take a walk at the south end, near the old phosphate docks. Chelsea wasted a grouper sandwich from Miller’s.
By the time they had made their way to the docks, the drizzle had cleared and there was a rainbow hanging over the water. Chelsea wanted to get a picture of Oceanna with the rainbow. Dustin headed out to the beach, Oceanna skipping in excitement to be near her beloved water.
“Chelsea couldn’t find her camera,” Dustin said. “Oceanna and I went back up to the truck to get her, and Oceanna was nearly ready to pop, because she knew what was coming. Chelsea got to the docks and read the message in the sand.”
Will you marry me?
Before she even had a chance to answer, Dustin was on his knees slipping a ring on her finger. Fortunately for him, she said yes. The family sat together on the beach and watched the sun set.
“It was really important to me that Oceanna be part of that moment,” he said. “I really wanted it to be a family moment.”
After that, Chelsea got her wish.
“We went to Miller’s to have that grouper sandwich,” he laughed.
Dustin has made sure that the Boca Grande connection will continue for another generation.
“The water off of Gasparilla Island was where Oceanna first experienced the ocean,” he said. “She was 2-months-old, and we just dipped her in for a second, but we wanted it to be out near the island.”
They have made many trips back with Oceanna in the last couple of years. On one of those trips, she gave her father a bit of a fright.
“We went to the beach at 14th Street, and there wasn’t much beach before it just dropped off into the water,” Dustin said. “She took off running from us, and we chased her. Just as I was reaching to grab her, she went over that little ledge straight into the water. No fear at all, at least for her!”
The family owns a miniature pig, thanks to a certain movie.
“Oceanna watched “Babe” and she spend the next few weeks talking about how she wanted a pig,” he said. “Then one day, I came home to a, well, a pig. It’s a miniature and only weighs about five pounds. The thing uses a litter box. I think it may be cleaner than most dogs.”
The pig’s name? Boca, of course!
As a second-generation boat builder, Dustin's education has been a mixture of formal schooling and apprenticeship under his father.
“I went through the boat building course at Manatee Technology Institute, and I spent five years learning CAD, computer-aided design,” he explained.
Up until two years ago, Dustin worked full-time as an appliance repairman.
“I’ve always been good with my hands,” he said.
When he moved to North Port and began spending more and more time on local waters, he realized that there just wasn't a boat out there that had all of the details and options that he wanted.So that natural handiness came to the fore.
“We built the first boat No Worries, and started using it in the Pass and local waters,” he said. “People started asking where we bought it, what brand it was. When they found out that we had built it ourselves, they wanted to know if we would build one for them. That’s when we realized that there was a market.”
Back to the drawing board Dustin went, refining his original design.
“I designed a boat with a high bow and an elevated deck,” he explained. “Added a tower and larger bait wells. There’s nothing worse than being on a fishing trip and running out of bait because you don’t have enough room. Walk-around gunnels. Even a head, so that you don’t have to use the typical five-gallon bucket and a rag. That can turn a lot of people off of going out fishing, if there aren’t any facilities. What I wanted was a tarpon fisher’s dream. But also a boat you could use for the whole family, to build memories on the water. The serious fishermen and women can go out in the morning and have a great time, then later in the afternoon, you can go out with the kids and spend time with them. I wanted a versatile boat, a serious fishing boat with all of the little luxuries.”
Though he hasn’t fished in any tournaments yet, Dustin has started to get to know a few of the local fishing guides and captains.
“You get to recognize them out on the open water, and I’m on speaking terms with a couple of the captains,” he said.
Dustin’s company, Barracuda Boats, is a family enterprise. His father works with him building each boat, and his wife, Chelsea, handles the marketing.
“She’s good with the social media part of it, and it let’s her stay home to take care of Oceanna,” he said.
Other than family, the company only employs a few people.
“We’re a small operation,” Dustin said. “We build each boat by hand, and that takes about three months from beginning to end.”
Dustin has one dream – to keep building boats.
“It all started with a passion for the water,” he said. “Specifically the waters of Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass. I’m passing that along to my daughter, and one day she can take over the company.”
For now, Dustin just wants to keep building his boats.
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